BOOK FAIRS—ARE THEY WORTH IT?

Last Saturday, the Autumnal Equinox, Susan and I spent the day attending and exhibiting our wares at the Sonoma County Book Festival, in a public square in downtown Santa Rosa, California. The weather was  perfect: a bright blue sky, and the air warm but not scorching. The staff running the show were friendly and helpful. We enjoyed getting to know some of our fellow exhibitors, and it was, as always, a pleasure to show off our Perseverance Press mysteries.

 

We’ve done a lot of exhibiting at trade shows and book fairs over the years. We’ve displayed at ABAs and BEAs all over the country, we participated in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for its first ten years. We showed at the Santa Barbara book fair, and early in our company history we even organized that event for two years running. We’ve had tables at Left Coast Crimes and Bouchercons.

Why do we do this?

It ain’t cheap. The cost of a space is substantial, and then there’s the equipment rental cost. (Oh? You wanted to put your books on a table? That’ll cost…) Plus travel expense, plus lodging.

So far we’ve never sold enough books at any book fair to make back our investment. (At the trade shows, you don’t sell any books on the floor.) I won’t tell you how many books we sold at the Sonoma County Book Festival last week, because I don’t know the number. I do know how much cash we took in, and I won’t tell you that number because I don’t want to.

But we had fun. We took turns strolling around and looking at the wares and services on display by other vendors. A lot of one-book self-publishers. Some religious cult publishers. A staff member of Pathfinder Press tried to enroll me in the Communist Party. There was a small press who specialized in books about vampires, Satan, and gore. There was a publisher of exquisitely written and illustrated children’s books; Susan bought a book from them (Barefoot Books) for one of our granddaughters.

It was our (good/bad, you decide) luck to be positioned next to a poetry slam in the midafternoon.

Most of all, we enjoyed talking to those several people who stopped by to chat about books. Our books, and books in general. And best of the best of all, occasionally after such a conversation somebody reached into a pocket and pulled out money. Books and smiles for money and smiles: an exchange remarkably like romance.

But there comes a time at every one of these events, usually late in the afternoon, when there’s a lull in the traffic and we’re tired of standing and tired of sitting and tired of smiling at looky-loo passersby, when one of us will turn to the other and say, “We’ll never do this again.”

And then somebody who was at the table hours ago will return, and buy a book, or another copy of a book she’s already bought.

And later, after we’ve packed up our wares and left the show, as we lift our glasses in a nearby bar and grill, one of us will turn to the other and say, “When we come back next year, let’s…”

 

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6 Responses

  1. You nailed it, John. The highs, the lows, the hassles and the aching feet. My reason for going? People. The chance to talk to people about my books. To talk to other writers/publishers/editors/buyers about books in general. To celebrate the written word and the endless creativity it engenders. Not to mention the chance to get away from staring at the blank screen.
    I’ve made friends, customers and contacts, been interviewed on TV and radio, tried good food and bad, and learned much. Yeah, it’s worth it.

  2. A lot of deja vu here, John. I’ve been through so many in my checkered career. And usually say afterward “I’ll never…” yet always go back again. And yes, there is always someone to connect with, exchange cards with–and then those little pebbles running down the spine when someone buys a book. I hope you won’t give up. And thanks for exhibiting ours, as well.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Nikki, Nancy. Yes, these events are hard work, but we keep coming back for more. Must be in our blood.

  4. Wow–thank you for doing this–I was tickled to see my book in the display. Cheers–Laura

  5. Sounds very much like an antique show. Or craft show. Or “art in the streets” show … Fun to meet the people. (Most of the time.) Expectations (almost) always ‘way above realities … but there are those contacts. The sunny day you had was definitely a positive. The exhaustion and sore feet at the end of the day can’t be avoided. The other dealers? Most of the time they’re interesting, in one way or another. I’ve made good friends with some — and killed a few off. (See my Shadows at the Fair.) But it’s part of the culture. Books, crafts, antiques, art. We have so many wonderful ways to go broke having fun! Thank you for including many of us on your journey last weekend!

  6. Laura, we were proud to display your books, of course. You too, Lea. And Lea, I’m sure you’re right: with street fairs of all types, the most fun comes from meeting the people.

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